Unification Commission approves process to meld OGA and PMA budgets

The first step is to identify the key priorities for all three agencies of the Presbyterian Church (USA), A Corporation: the Office of the General Assembly, the Presbyterian Mission Agency, and the Administrative Services Group.

The commission charged with unifying the Office of the General Assembly (OGA) and the Presbyterian Mission Agency (PMA) recently approved the first step of a process  that will unify the budget of the Administrative Services Group, OGA, and PMA beginning in 2025-26. The commission also discussed key dates to prepare to present a unified organizational structure for OGA and PMA to the 2026 General Assembly (GA). Only the second year of that two-year budget will reflect a unified organizational structure.

The 2022 GA mandated this commission to unify the two agencies and gave the commission power to review, adapt, align and organize boards, committees and constituent bodies. If needed, the commission has the power to assume governance of the agencies to achieve these purposes. 

The 2025-26 budget process will begin by identifying key unified priorities. The proposal came from a group of staff members from PMA, OGA, and Presbyterian Church (USA), A Corporation (A Corp)  called the Coordinating Table, which has been meeting regularly in preparation for unification. The finance workgroup of the commission made some slight changes before presenting it to the commission. To see the full process approved by the commission, click on “Process for Unified Budget” here.

The budget process seeks to understand the shared priorities of OGA, PMA and A Corp in order to form a unified budget. The process states, “The development of the 2025-2026 unified budget is not only complex, but there are layers of responsibility and processes at play that could/should inform the development of the budget. First and foremost, a unified budget requires shared priorities for the three agencies of A Corp (the Administrative Services Group, OGA and PMA).

The group to work on the budget priorities will include commissioners David Davis, Scott Lumsden and Kris Thompson; commission co-Moderators Christi Scott Ligon and Felipe Martínez; A Corp President Kathy Lueckert, plus a member of her choosing to represent the A Corp Board; Acting Stated Clerk Bronwen Boswell, plus a member of her choosing to represent the Committee on the Office of the General Assembly; and PMA President Diane Moffett, plus a member of her choosing to represent the Presbyterian Mission Agency Board. 

That group will identify and draft the key unified operational and programmatic priorities that will help determine a budget for 2025-26. According to the approved policy, these priorities will be refined by the Coordinating Table. Following that step, the priorities would be reviewed by the three executives before being sent back to the budget priorities group. That group would then make recommendations to the commission.

In other business, Lueckert presented to the commission a three-part timeline to consider their work for unification: design in 2023-2025, implementation in 2025 and alignment in 2026. During the design phase, the commission will continue to study and understand “the organizational cultures of OGA and PMA, considering how the cultures will meld, and clarifying the national mission and vision.” 

During the implementation phase of unification, the commission will look at structural, personnel and policy changes and develop a timeline for “expeditious change” to integrate PMA and OGA. The commission will then, during an alignment phase, change the organization for mission to align with the new mission, vision, structure and policies. The organization for the mission is the manual of administrative operations that guides GA, and the commission is mandated to present a new administrative manual to GA in 2026.

Commissioners also made time in their schedule to introduce themselves over Zoom to Boswell, who will begin her service as acting stated clerk on July 10. They also discussed possibly realigning the stated clerk’s typical term of four years so that it would line up better with a unified structure. While the matter was unresolved, Deputy Stated Clerk Kerry Rice agreed to research the possibility.

The meeting opened on Thursday with a high-level conversation of the commission’s work. The commission discussed at length the type of governance structure that might be most helpful as well as continually clarifying the purpose of their work.

Commissioner Debra Avery from the governance workgroup suggested that their work is to take the “shalls” frequently found in the Book of Order and turn them into “how-tos” for governance. She said, “Our goal when we are done with this is to have a how-to manual.”

Lueckert offered some insight on the differences between roles and functions. She encouraged the commission to take a broader view. Instead of thinking about “who’s going to be where on the organizational chart and what tasks they are going to do,” think about the role of the governance that they are creating.

“The discipline of creating a visionary body instead of a meddling body really matters,” GA co-Moderator Ruth Santana-Grace said. “We church people have mistaken our vision with getting involved in the weeds which has not been helpful for the administrators that we have entrusted to do that work.”

Commissioner Francis Lin from the common mission workgroup said their workgroup was struggling with the word “mission” and that it seemed unnecessary to produce another statement about mission. Commissioner Bill Teng agreed that the workgroup had not come up with anything “new and unique.” They asked the commission to help articulate the “why” of their work. 

Lueckert said, “It strikes me that the word ‘mission’ has way too many meanings, and they’ve been co-opted in various ways by various organizations to suit their own purposes or to carve out their particular piece of the term. So, we’re trying to be clear about what we mean by ‘mission.’ This new (unified) board needs to have a mission or a purpose. But that doesn’t negate the need of the whole church to do mission to Christ in the world.”

The commission also decided to meet more regularly in person. The next scheduled in-person meeting will be at the Polity, Benefits and Mission Conference on Oct. 9-12 in St. Louis, Missouri, where they will be able to meet with mid council leadership. A January 2024 in-person meeting will facilitate an interim report to the GA in 2024, which is due on Feb. 26, 2024, and there will be an in-person meeting in April, as well. They also plan to meet immediately following the 2024 GA in July in Salt Lake City, Utah.

The commission will hold its eighth meeting on Zoom on July 22.